Leadership in the Church: Hierarchical Structure?

by drwinn on March 12, 2015

Introduction

To understand the idea of gracelets 1 in the writings of Paul, it is helpful to understand his view of leadership in his letters. Thus, we will examine the long-lasting hypothesis, which a lot of ink has been spilled on, that suggests that the church has a hierarchical structure. Here are some questions we could consider.

  • How did this idea originate?
  • Did it come from the writings of Paul?
  • Was it early catholic theology attributed to the books of 1 and 2 Timothy?
  • Was it a Hebrew thought form or was it a Greek thought form in its origin?
  • Is it possible that the Western mindset, with its need for specificity and reductionism, has taken what the early church saw as function and turned it into specific categories or offices?

The following is a synopsis on the subject of hierarchical structure in Scripture.

We begin with a short survey of the First Testament.

The First Testament: A Short Survey

By the time we get to the story of Exodus in the First Testament, it seems to point to the notion that God deliberately wanted his people to be a “kingdom of priests.” Moses was instructed by God to tell the people of Israel as recorded in Exodus 19.4-6:

“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

The idea suggested by “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” is that all the citizens of Israel were to be regarded with dignity and power. 2 The family of Aaron, the older brother of Moses, was a family of high priests in which the oldest representative of the family functioned as high priest. Consecrated in the same way as all the other priests, the high priest shared in the usual daily duties. The major difference was that when the Day of Atonement arrived, the serving high priest became the representative of the people before God. 3 The priests functioned as manual laborers in the care of the Tabernacle (Num. 3.5ff). Their service timeframe was about twenty-five years from the age of twenty-five to fifty (Num. 35.1). Each city in Israel had dedicated a section of land that was for their use. 4

What could this mean? It could be that The First Testament does not appear to have what one might call an office in which ministry occurred because the intention was that all would be priests. It could also be said that the priests functioned as laborers on land set apart for them to work on. That is to say, they were not “paid wages” for their service of being a priest.

Notes:

  1. Gracelets is the word that I am using for the so-called spiritual gifts.
  2. Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 2:97.
  3. D. R. Wood and others, The New Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1029.
  4. Ibid., 1028-1029.

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